Boycotting Israel and the South Africa/apartheid analogy

February 19

Advocates of an economic and cultural boycott of Israel often compare their cause to the international boycott of South Africa in the 1980s, with “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land” deemed an analogous crime to South Africa’s apartheid.

I find this analogy to be egregiously dumb on a variety of levels, but let’s run with it for a moment. Let’s say that occupying the West Bank and Gaza is indeed the moral equivalent of apartheid. South Africa decided to negotiate with African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, whom South Africa had previously deemed a terrorist, to end apartheid. Similarly, Israel decided to negotiate with Yasser Arafat to establish a Palestinian state and end “the occupation.” We all know that South Africa soon had a peaceful transition to post-apartheid democracy. But let’s pretend that instead South African history had developed like Israeli-Palestinian history has.

Nelson Mandela, while speaking of peace and reconciliation in English to Western audiences, gave speeches in various African languages promising that he would fight to drive whites out of South Africa until blacks won a total victory. A rival black group, the Black Supremacist Organization, or BSO, opposed to negotiations, began a bombing campaign against South African whites in Johannesburg and Captetown. Their specialty was blowing up civilian buses.

The South African government gave Mandela governing authority over much of the black population. Mandela sometimes cracked down on the BSO’s terrorist campaign, and sometimes tacitly allowed it, depending on how negotiations with the government were going. Meanwhile, he started developing various armed terrorist factions within the ANC, in case he decided that armed conflict would serve his interests better than negotiations.

In part because of backlash against growing terrorism within South Africa, a more right-wing government was elected by the white minority. While this government was less enthusiastic about the peace process than its predecessor, to the surprise of many it kept up its obligations and withdrew the South African defense forces from additional territory.

Nevertheless, the footdragging and reluctance irritated both domestic anti-apartheid activists and the Clinton administration. New elections resulted, and a more liberal coalition once again took power. With the Clinton administration’s urging, Mandela met with the white government leader to negotiate a final settlement. South Africa’s president, again to the surprise of many, offered a settlement well within the parameters of the result the international community expected, backed up by tens of billions of dollars of Western aid. Clinton urged Mandela to take the offer. Mandela’s aides urged him to take the offer. Leaders of the more Western-oriented local African states urged Mandela to take the offer. Mandela, however, refused the offer, and failed to make a counter-offer.

Not long thereafter, a right-wing South African politician led a march through a politically sensitive part of South Africa. Mostly spontaneous violence followed. Mandela, rather than trying to calm the violence, decided to unleash the armed forces he had been recruiting, all the while denying he was doing so; we’d later learn that he had longstanding plans to do so if negotiations seemed to be faltering.

Regardless, while negotiations putatively continued, Mandela increasingly unleashed terrorist forces against white South Africa, as did the BSO and other violent black groups. Buses, wedding halls, bars, and cafes were targeted, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of white South Africans. Hundreds more black South Africans died as the South African government attempted to calm the violence with military force. Mandela managed to lose any remaining support he had in the U.S. government by claiming that he was trying to stop the violence while in fact trying to import tens of millions of dollars worth of North Korean weaponry.

Meanwhile, white voters elected a new, right-wing government headed by the individual whose march had helped provoke the South African “intifada.” Through a combination of military force and intelligence work, the violence died down. Mandela meanwhile died, replaced by bland ANC bureaucrats who were once his aides. He left a corrupt, violent, and incompetent government.

To the surprise of many, the new white president, known for his longstanding support for apartheid, announced that he too thought apartheid must end. He announced plans to totally withdraw South African forces from territory in which about one-third of all South African blacks lived. When some of his right-wing comrades objected, he formed a new party and found that he had the support of most white South Africans.

Once the South African army withdrew, the African National Congress took over. But their takeover was short-lived. The ANC was so incompetent at governing that locals voted them out of office in favor of the BSO. The BSO was known for its lack of corruption, and its unrelenting hostility to white South Africans. The new government meted out street justice to ANC loyalists, and ultimately instituted a repressive government dedicated to black supremacy and driving all whites out of South Africa.

The result of this takeover was two short wars between South Africa and the BSO, resulting from constant missile barrages from BSO territory into Capetown. South Africa in the meantime had withdrawn its soldiers from the front-line state of Angola, only to find that a racist Angolan faction armed itself with ten of thousands of missiles aimed at the white civilian population. This too led to a war; most of South Africa’s ardent critics who had urged it to withdraw from territory and make sacrifices to end apartheid proceeded to harshly criticize South Africa for responding to missiles and other violent acts with military force. Precisely what South Africa’s government was supposed to do instead they didn’t articulate, beyond “end apartheid.”

A moderate South African government made another offer to end apartheid within internationally accepted parameters in 2008. That offer was rejected by the ANC, and no counter-offer was made.

Fast forward to 2014. A significant chunk of South Africa is still ruled by the racist BSO government that fills its airwaves with anti-white propaganda, and rejects the possibility of any permanent agreement with the white government beyond all the whites “returning” to Europe. The vast majority of blacks in the rest of South Africa live under day to day black majority ANC rule, but because of the ongoing threat of terrorism their movement in constricted by South African government checkpoints. The ANC government is as incompetent and corrupt as ever, wasting billions of dollars in Western aid money. It’s had no elections for years, and it’s not the least bit clear that it could enforce any permanent agreement it entered into with the South African government.

Meanwhile, a center-right government rules South Africa. Parties representing the vast majority of whites have accepted that apartheid must end with a negotiated settlement within international parameters. Such negotiations are currently in progress, with U.S. involvement and encouragement. The debate within white South Africa is not whether apartheid should end, but whether (a) the ANC is ready, willing, and able to accept and enforce an agreement; and (b) whether security arrangements can be made to ensure that the end of apartheid doesn’t mean a wholesale terrorist massacre of white South Africans. Meanwhile, white South Africans’ attention has been distracted by threats emanating from a radical government in Kenya, which is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons and has vowed to wipe South Africa off the map.

In the 1980s, the rationale for boycotting South Africa was to show the government that it must end apartheid. So now that the government has offered three times to do so, and parties representing the vast majority of whites still want to, the question is, who would advocate boycotting our parallel-universe South Africa in 2014, and why?

David Bernstein is the George Mason University Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA. He is the author of Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform (2011); You Can't Say That! The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws (2003);
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David Bernstein · February 19